The coastal drive between Brisbane and Cairns is one of the most popular in Australia. The combination of lovely beaches, beautiful islands, national parks, Australian history, Australian wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef and gourmet food experiences make the drive an attractive option for many visitors.
Interestingly most of the best places to visit are within a short distance of the main route so to make the most of the trip you need to be prepared to go on regular side trips. All options described in this article are accessible by 2WD vehicles such as cars and vans.
This article provides a detailed overview of the main Bruce Highway route and side trip options between Brisbane and Gympie. Future articles will cover the remainder of the route through to Cairns.
Bruce Highway Route Overview
The major route between Brisbane and Gympie is the Bruce Highway which can be travelled in as little as 1:58 hrs over the 170 km, 106 mi distance.
The Bruce Highway consists of mostly double lane highway through to the northern end of the Sunshine Coast. Further north the road changes to mostly single carriageway roads with regular overtaking lanes and where you have to slow down to travel through towns.
The Bruce Highway is well serviced by government funded roadside stops which contain toilet facilities, picnic tables and some also have fenced playgrounds for young children. The stops are well signposted so you can plan your drive.
During peak times (school holidays and major public holidays) the Driver Reviver program also operates, which encourages drivers to take regular rest stops as they drive long distance. The Driver Reviver program offers a free cup or tea or coffee for a small donation.
There are always sections of roadworks occurring somewhere along the Bruce Highway so be prepared for periodic delays.
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When to Visit & Dangers
The Bruce Highway is accessible all year round. Spring, Summer and Autumn are the best time of year to swim at the beaches from a water temperature perspective.
In Summer (December to February) temperatures are regularly in the 30 – 40 degrees C (86 – 104 degrees F) range, so ensure you carry extra water and food in your car in the event of any traffic delays.
A traffic delay can sometimes cause you to wait for hours, particularly during school holiday periods. Where possible avoid travelling on the Bruce Highway at the beginning and the end of the Queensland school holidays and long weekends.
Cyclones or Hurricanes
The entire Queensland coastline can be affected by cyclones (or hurricanes) between November and April.
Humpback Whale Watching
Every year humpback whales migrate from June to August up the east coast of Australia from Antarctica to their sub-tropical breeding grounds. The humpback whales return south to the Southern Ocean from September to November.
In many places along the route between Brisbane and Harvey Bay whale watching cruises are offered, and in some places you may sometimes be able to see them from shore.
Bruce Highway – Brisbane to Gympie
The main route using the Bruce Highway is the direct drive from Brisbane to Gympie (170km, 106 mi, 1:58 hrs). The best map of the Brisbane to Gympie region, including side trip options and features is available from the Hinterland Tourism website.
The early part of the trip is standard driving on a dual carriageway, but once you reach the Caboolture turnoff the landscape changes. You can start to see the spectacular Glasshouse Mountains as you drive through to the Beerwah turnoff. The Wild Horse Mountain Lookout is well signposted and is only a short distance off the Bruce Highway if you want a quick stop at a good look out over the Glasshouse Mountains.
The next notable landmark is the Big Pineapple, which has had an interesting history where the original business was shut down, but it has recently re-opened as a local community centre. Markets are held every Wednesday and Saturday.
Closely following is The Ginger Factory, which has free entry and a beautiful park and range of activities (some require payment), including seeing where ginger and honey come from and how they are processed.
A short distance up the road are the massive Eumundi Markets which have a fantastic selection of local handiwork and are open every Wednesday and Saturday and others times as advised.
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Side Trip Option – Australia Zoo and Glasshouse Mountains
A really worthwhile side trip is the route via Beerburrum which is parallel to the Bruce Highway to see some viewpoints of the Glasshouse Mountains (see map of lookout options). A short distance north of Beerwah is Australia Zoo, home of The Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
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Side Trip Option – Australia Zoo, Glasshouse Mountains, Maleny and Montville
In addition to the previously mentioned side trip to the Glasshouse Mountains and Australia Zoo you can add on a drive through the spectacular Blackall Range (93km, 58 mi, 1:23 hrs).
The Blackall Range sits behind the Sunshine Coast and spectacular views over the Glasshouse Mountains and Pacific Ocean can be seen throughout the drive. In addition, you can visit the lovely small towns of Maleny, Montville and Mapleton which have a strong art scene, along with many restaurants and cafes.
Blackall Range Natural Attractions
Throughout the Blackall Range there are many amazing natural attractions. The Hinterland Tourism website has good maps of the different options in the area.
Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve near Maleny provides both a spectacular elevated viewing point across the Glasshouse Mountains and also provides easy access to view and learn about subtropical rainforests.
Kondalillia National Park near Montville contains Kondalilla Falls which has a drop of 90m. A longer walk is required to get to the falls.
Mapleton Falls National Park near Mapleton contains Mapleton Falls which has a spectacular drop of 120m. The falls are readily accessible with only a 50m wheel chair accessible walk from the carpark.
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Side Trip Option – Bribie Island
If you have a hankering to visit one of the sand islands off the South Queensland Coast, Bribie Island could be a good option to consider. All of the other sand islands (Fraser Island, Moreton Island, North Stradbroke Island and South Stradbroke Island) are only accessible by boat and 4WD vehicle. Bribie Island is accessible by bridge and 2WD vehicles can access part of the island, which makes it a much cheaper proposition.
Bribie Island is a short 25km, 15 mi, 0:22 hrs drive each way from Caboolture. The Bribie Island Recreation Area website has the best map which shows which parts of the island are accessible by 2WD vehicle. 2WD vehicles can readily access the southern part of the island which includes both still water and surf beaches.
There are many options to rent a boat or go on a boat tour in Pumicestone passage which traverses the western side of Bribie Island all the way to the southern end of the Sunshine Coast at Caloundra. You can also either go on a 4WD tour or hire a 4WD vehicle to further explore the area. Ensure you carefully read and understand 4WD hire terms and conditions otherwise you could incur significant extra expenses.
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Side Trip Option – The Sunshine Coast
The Sunshine Coast is a 55km, 35 mi string of very beautiful and popular surf beaches. The Sunshine Coast starts from the southern end at Caloundra, and then heads north through the major townships of Mooloolaba, Coolum Beach and to Noosa Heads at the northern end. There are many minor towns along the way. This side trip along the entire Sunshine Coast requires a trip of 87km, 54 mi, 1:32 hrs from Glenview and returns to the Bruce Highway at Cooroy.
There are a wide range of other activities on offer in the area, including gourmet food, nightlife and adventure activities. A major attraction is Underwater World aquarium at Mooloolaba.
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Gympie was founded in 1867 after gold was discovered so it has a good selection of gold era architecture on show. Depending on how many side trips you have taken will determine whether Gympie is a good stopping point for your journey.
Get Ready for the Awesome Australian Road Trip from Gympie to Rockhampton
Awesome Australian 2WD Road Trips: Gympie to Rockhampton details the second stage of the Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip.
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Category: Road Trips